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"Underground railroad" brings dogs out of Afghanistan

full story, more photos, and over 25 comments: http://www.thestar.com/news/gta/article/1306489---underground-railroad-brings-dogs-out-of-afghanistan"Underground


Geordon Roy and Guts, a stray dog the soldier adopted in Afghanistan and brought home to Saskatchewan with the help of Albert Wong, a retired lieutenant-commander from Toronto. photo 2/4.

Jessica McDiarmid 
Dec 23, 2012

When Jodi McMurray met Rabies, the stray dog had posted himself outside the gates of the Canadian Embassy in Kabul, mooching food and belly rubs off the soldiers and diplomats.

Named by the guards at the gates, the feisty dog was "King of the Street," said McMurray, who was in Kabul on a short trip in 2010.

Later that year, the Canadian diplomat was posted to Kabul. She arrived on Christmas Eve. "There was Rabies," she said. "Of course, my heart just melts."
In a country where dogs are seen more as vermin than pets, and frequently harassed, tortured, killed or used for fighting, McMurray grew more attached.
"A large part of the population can't feed themselves and their children, let alone animals," said McMurray. "I had this voice inside of me saying, 'You've got to get him out of here.' "

Enter retired lieutenant-commander Albert Wong, who now runs a communications firm in Toronto.

Wong brought a dog, Wutan, home after a posting to Afghanistan in 2005-06 and ever since, has been helping others do the same. He calls it the Wutan Project.

McMurray changed Rabies' name to Leo, figuring clearing customs might be difficult with a pet named after a deadly disease, she said with a laugh. After much red tape, Leo was on a plane bound for Pearson airport, where Wong picked him up.

Leo is one of 12 dogs Wong has helped bring to Canada from Afghanistan.
The first was Wutan, who had been used for sniffing out mines and explosives. Wong wanted to take him back.

"When we were rotating out, we felt we shouldn't be leaving him behind," said Wong.

He found Pam Constable, an American journalist in Afghanistan who has created an underground pet railroad of sorts, shuttling them from all over the country to a safe house in Kabul.

From there, they are flown to Islamabad, Pakistan, for vet checks, shots and a "doggy passport." Then they're flown to their future homes, many in Britain or the U.S.

Those that come to Canada are often collected at Pearson by Wong, who gets them on to their new homes across the country.

Both the U.S. and Britain have charities that help cover costs for soldiers who want to bring pets back. Usually, Canadian soldiers foot the full bill, which is $3,000 or more.

"It's part of our healing, for both sides, for the animal and the soldiers. It's a pleasant connection they have with Afghanistan," said Wong.

"This is all part of the legacy of Afghanistan and how we deal with it. Some come back physically wounded but all of us came back emotionally affected. If this is a way to help some of them, great."

Erin Mather served in Afghanistan for six months, most of it cut off from the outside world in Dand and Panjwai districts. Every day, a small, blond dog followed the Canadian soldiers on patrol.

The troops started taking care of the dog, having relatives send flea collars and doggy treats. The dog became attached to Mather, going everywhere with her.
Mather named her Gougoune, a phonetic version of the French for flip-flop, which the pup had a habit of stealing from the Van Doos posted there.

Mather's brother was stationed in Kabul, where he heard about the pet safe house. He and Mather arranged to get Gougoune to Kandahar, and from there to the shelter in Kabul.

Mather paid more than $3,000 just for Gougoune's flight. Wong picked the dog up at the airport.

"She's the most expensive mutt," said Mather with a laugh.

Now that Mather is back in Alberta, Gougoune has helped her adjust and deal with the "grey areas" of her experiences.

"Every time I look at my dog, that's something really positive," said Mather. "I don't think I would ever be able to reconcile with leaving her there. It's probably the most positive thing I've done, for myself and for her. Animals are truly innocent, in all the things people do to each other."

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